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Reverb10: Ordinary Joy

Dec 27 prompt: Ordinary joy. Our most profound joy is often experienced during ordinary moments. What was one of your most joyful ordinary moments this year?

When I first moved to New York to start my graduate degree, my plan was to get the degree and move the hell away. Who could live in this filthy, expensive, loud, expensive, chaotic, expensive, cement-bound city?

That was in 1988.

I’m still here. And with a family no less. And because of a significant design flaw, wherein giving birth to a child does not automatically also produce a full-time nanny, New York life did not get simpler with the addition of children.

I’m not one of those New Yorkers who insist that New York is the only place I could ever live – I have this fantasy about living in a small town in a warm place by the sea (with, of course, great schools, a good library, politically liberal people, and a few fab restaurants. Too much to ask?)  Sometimes I even think that living in LA would be great – and then Husband points out that we’d have to drive everywhere and I hate driving. To which I respond that it’s my fantasy, thanks, and in my fantasy, we live in West Hollywood or Silver Lake where I could ride a bike around and not have to spend every waking minute behind the wheel of a mini-van. Husband mutters things like “mudslides” and “earthquakes” and “the Valley” and then we stop having the conversation.

All of which is to say that my daily life in New York is not an unbroken romantic engagement.

This prompt reminded me of a day last summer, however, when I had a “wow I love this place” moment – an afternoon of ordinary joy, I think you could call it, because it started with something very simple: a bike ride.

I ride my bike in the city a lot; it’s the most sensible way to get around, especially if you have to go anywhere on a diagonal. I ride in all kinds of weather and even until I was about seven months pregnant with Caleb–can I tell you what kind of stares a hugely pregnant woman gets as she sails by on her bicycle?  I looked like Miss Gulch after over-indulging at a pig roast.

This particular bike ride was in the late morning on a weekday, during those glorious weeks in June when the boys are still in school but my teaching semester is finished. I rode west and then south, along the river, where I sat for a while and eavesdropped on the conversation this guy was having about the relative merits of small versus large dogs in NYC apartments.  His own dog seemed barely contained by his wee swim suit:

Further south, then turned east and cut across near City Hall, through the lunch-time crowd in City Hall Park:

There were about six chess games going on, each with its own audience. These guys were so intent I think a bomb could’ve dropped and they wouldn’t have noticed.

Then over to the east side, and turned north, along the East River, where I wondered yet again why the East River parks languish while the Hudson parks gleam with glossy infusions of hedges, flowers, and shade trees.  I stopped under the Williamsburg Bridge and considered Brooklyn, where I lived for twelve years before moving across the bridge.  Typical of my pattern, I left Brooklyn just before it became the “it” locale. Every neighborhood I lived in, in Brooklyn–Fort Greene, Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Park Slope–became wildly popular just after I moved away.  Whether that means I’m wildly ahead of the curve or that I’m so unhip nothing can happen until I leave, I’m not sure (though I tend to think the latter).

Under the bridge:

I liked this view so much, I took it twice:

I didn’t see anything extraordinary on my bike ride – just the constantly evolving stream of New York.  Sometimes it’s overwhelming but sometimes? Sometimes that stream of life fills me with joy about the fact that I get to live here, that all of this abundance is available to me.

Continue Reading · on December 30, 2010 in NYC, reverb10, street notes

Reverb10: Photo

Prompt from Dec 25: Photo – a present to yourself. Sift through all the photos of you from the past year. Choose one that best captures you; either who you are, or who you strive to be. Find the shot of you that is worth a thousand words. Share the image, who shot it, where, and what it best reveals about you.

I’m sitting on a dune in The Empty Quarter, Rub’ Al Khali, in the early morning. Here’s the initial thought process that happens when I look at this photo:

–dear god woman do something about your hair because that ponytail loopy thing does not work. or if you’re going to insist on that particular hair arrangement, then let’s do something about the increasingly nixonian jowl.

–while you’re at it, let’s work on the backfat, too, shall we? and you should perhaps overcome your loathing of bra shopping and find one that fits. And then while you’re shopping for a bra, why don’t you also see if you can find a replacement for that mangy white t-shirt that clings so attractively to every ripple of your late-mid-forties mid-section.

–nice sneakers, too. is it so much to ask that you dress like a grownup?

And that, my friends, is why I hate pictures of myself. That particular feedback loop gets really tiresome–and occurs very nicely on its own, even without visual stimulus, thanks very much.

But now I’m going to try a paradigm shift and look at this picture more generously–as a “present” for myself.

–This picture was taken by Husband during a magical walk that we took on the dunes with both boys, who were delighted to be playing in the biggest sandbox they’d ever seen. All of us, in our own ways, were feeling the enchantment of the desert; we spent more than an hour running and climbing and, yes, sitting quietly taking in the silence.

–I’m holding a camera, which reminds me that a long time ago, in a faraway land called “youth,” I loved taking photographs and sometimes even took a few that were quite good. I’d like photography to be a bigger part of my future life.

–I’m outside, in a beautiful place, and that reminds me that getting out of the city–even if only to the Hudson Riverpark–makes me happy.

–I want to remember the peace of this place–the silence, the infiniteness–for those moments (hours, days, weeks, the entire month of February) when the apartment walls start to close in.

–And, finally, this picture reminds me that adventure is good for the soul.

Continue Reading · on December 29, 2010 in me my own personal self, reverb10, Travel

Reverb10: Everything’s Going to be Okay

Prompt for Dec 24: Everything’s OK. What was the best moment that could serve as proof that everything is going to be alright? And how will you incorporate that discovery into the year ahead?

First of all, where do we stand on whether “alright” is one word or two? I am in the two-words camp, which means that, like the misplaced “it’s” in a previous prompt, I look at this prompt with a little inner “grr.”

But. That grr notwithstanding, my response to the prompt:

Husband traveled a lot this year as part of his work in Abu Dhabi and neither of us, I think, at the outset of his journeying, knew how hard it would be. I mean, we knew the logistics would be tough (for the person who stayed home –oh wait, that’s me) and that jet lag would be exhausting, and that he would miss out on stuff happening in the boy’s lives blah blah blah…But neither of us quite realized that there would be intangible difficulties too: simple things like trying to catch each other up on the day’s events, for example, weren’t simple at all, because of the nine-hour time difference.

After each trip it takes a few days for things to settle back to normal, but last summer, after Husband had been gone on a two-week trip, we had more than a standard-issue squabble. We had A Big Discussion. Without divulging any secrets, let’s  just say that things got heated and then got very, very cool. As in cold shoulders and even colder silences.

Neither of us is particularly good at staying angry–well, okay, I am a lot better at it than Husband, actually, but I get tired of being the only one In A Fight–so our typical pattern is to let a big fight fade, let it slip silently under the water of daily life to become part of our marriage’s subterranean landscape–the sharp rocks we step on when we’re not looking.

Last summer, though, instead of giving in to sheer inertia, we carved our way out of our interpersonal Arctic zone. We got to the root of what we were arguing about (which was not, of course, the ostensible topic on the table), and found a solution. A resolution, an answer, a plan.

Would that I could write a happily-ever-after paragraph here, in which I state that as a result of our resolve this summer, we’ve been living squabble-free ever since. If you’d like to believe that, please stop reading here.

In real life, the Bicker McBickersons still visit us each time Husband returns from a trip, but their bitching doesn’t carry much bite these days. Our resolution this summer shows me that, all bickering aside, everything is going to be all right.

Continue Reading · on December 28, 2010 in marriage, reverb10

Reverb10: Name

Prompt for Dec 23: New name. Let’s meet again, for the first time. If you could introduce yourself to strangers by another name for just one day, what would it be and why?

I didn’t like my name when I was growing up. It seemed so ordinary, so dull. I called myself Debbie in an effort to jazz things up–even went so far as to spell it Debbi for a brief while, in middle school, complete with a little heart as the dot over the i. Debbie was the name emblazoned on the back of my pom-pom girl sweater, the name on scrawled on my homework, the name all my friends used, the name I brought to college.

It wasn’t until I spent a summer in the mountains of Colorado with my aunt Deborah, my godmother, that I found those other syllables in my name. Debbie stayed in the mountains, I guess you could say, and Deborah came back.  Now I cringe when people call me Debbie–and people do it all the time. I introduce myself as Deborah and get “nice to meet you, Debbie,” which I really don’t understand. If I take the trouble to introduce myself in a particular way, why wouldn’t you assume that the name I gave you is the name I’d like you to use? I mean, if you introduce yourself to me as Sam, can I just call you, I don’t know, Tony?

It’s hard, this late in the game, to imagine another name for myself, although as a very young girl I would daydream over the color plate of gemstones in our big dictionary and think about having a name like “chrysoprase,” or “onyx.” I was the only fourth-grader I knew who had already chosen her nom de plume.  It was a name I chose that fit the sweeping historical novels I planned to write–novels with titles like “The Flame and the Sword Flower,” or “Sweet Rachel’s Revenge.” I needed a name that fit my ambitions, a name with drama.

Now, however, my name is my name. Didn’t change it when I got married, don’t plan on changing it now. And anything I publish from here on in will be under my name…not Chalcedony Devereaux.

Continue Reading · on December 28, 2010 in Books, reverb10

Reverb10: healing, avoiding, imagining

Isn’t that a nice string of participles with which to confront this weird limbo space between Christmas and New Year’s?  Heal yourself of stress, avoid the inevitable bills/mess/family/hangover, imagine all that you’re going to be healthier/happier/richer/thinner/balanced-er in the new year.

Of course, first you’ve got to finish your reverbs, dammit. Or there will be no balance no way, no how. So I will ignore the obvious jeezuz-did-it-ever-snow post, and the here-are-my-kids-romping-in-the-snow picture sequence, and instead concentrate on reverberating through the year that was into the year that will be.

Prompt from Dec 19: Healing. What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011?

Is there really any way to answer this question other than by breaking into a Marvin Gaye chorus?  Which then would make one wonder how “sexual healing” would happen “drip-by-drip” … but this isn’t a sex column so I’ll leave that image to those with more vivid imaginations than my own.

Other than quitting my old job (remind me to tell you about the nun who embezzled millions of dollars over the last few years from the college where I used to teach–and spent most of the money in Atlantic City. THAT’S a healing story if ever there was one) and suddenly finding myself living and working in the same zip code (every New Yorker’s dream), life remains a state of perpetual ambivalence. But perhaps there’s healing in accepting that ambi-ness instead of insisting always on certainty and consistency. Remember what Emerson says: “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Thus I will remain wisely inconsistent into the new year, thanks, sarcastic and (more or less) unhealed.

So was I healed in 2010? Oh good lord probably I wasn’t, because I’m still mostly a sarcastic bitch, and sarcasm comes from anger, right? And if I’d been healed then I wouldn’t be angry and thus not sarcastic, which means that I can’t ever be healed because then I will lose whatever claim I have to being “a funny person,” and if I stop being funny then the mean girls in 5th grade will start beating me up again.

So that’s gonna be an ix-nay on the ealing-hay.

Prompt from Dec 20: Beyond avoidance. What should you have done this year but didn’t because you were too scared, worried, unsure, busy or otherwise deterred from doing? (Bonus: Will you do it?)

A wise friend from long ago told me that if I could avoid “should,” my life would be a happier place. The joke, of course, is that he said I should avoid “should.” I like to think that I did all that I had to do this year–all that I was required to do, and even some stuff that I did because I thought I “should:” helping at the boys’ schools, volunteering for committees at my new job, stuff like that.

What didn’t I do? I didn’t pursue my writing projects with the diligence I promised myself when I changed jobs (all that time you’ll save commuting, I told myself; you can totally put those hours towards writing time. Insert maniacal laughter here).  It wasn’t fear that kept me from starting…just…inertia, pure and simple. Inertia and underestimating what it would take to get used to a new routine and new responsibilities. Or maybe those are excuses masking a fear so deep I can’t or won’t articulate it, but at this point, who cares? Come 2011, my students may have to wait longer to get their assignments back, and my kids may be eating pizza for dinner for for weeks on end…they’re all young. Resilient. They’ll recover. Me? I’m old and running of out time. No more excuses.

Prompt from Dec 21: Future self. Imagine yourself five years from now. What advice would you give your current self for the year ahead? (Bonus: Write a note to yourself 10 years ago. What would you tell your younger self?)

Funny, when I think about it, the advice would be the same whether I’m looking backwards or forwards: it’s going to be okay. If I were five years away, on the eve of 2016, looking back at me now, worrying about all the possible changes coming down the pike this year, I’d tell myself to relax and let the adventure happen.  I’d remind myself that nothing happens without risk–and remind myself of the risk I took more than fifteen years ago, when I ended a serious multi-year relationship (we’d bought A Ring, set A Date, I’d bought The Dress), because I finally figured that even though relationships were supposed to be “work,” they were also supposed to be, you know, fun.  So I left. And it was scary for a while but then…then everything was okay.

I don’t know what it means, that the same piece of advice has held true for the past fifteen years.  Am I that stupid, that I can’t figure out the importance of trusting the risk? I’m an Aquarius, for god’s sake – aren’t we supposed to be the free spirits of the zodiac? Or maybe I should blame the fact that I’m actually born on the cusp of Capricorn and Aquarius–the Goat in me wants to Manage Everything.

If I were an embroidery type of person, maybe that’s what I’d stitch on a wee pillow for my couch: “trust the risk.”

Luckily, I don’t know how to embroider. But I’m still going to take my own advice. Finally.  I mean, I’m slow, but I’m educable.

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Continue Reading · on December 27, 2010 in reverb10

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